HBO's face, Richard Plepler, is leaving after 27 years and dozens of Emmys


The industry in which Mr. Plepler thrived was recently destabilized by the entry of major digital rivals such as Netflix and Amazon. His threat to the old ways of creating entertainment has helped put the recent megacities in the media and entertainment moving. In addition to Time Warner's purchase of AT & T, the Walt Disney Company is acquiring much of 21st Century Fox.

Mr. Plepler joined HBO as a public relations officer in 1992, a few years after serving as an advisor to Christopher J. Dodd, then US senator in Connecticut. Before long, Mr. Plepler oversaw HBO's communications department, but his position was larger than his title suggested. He became the face of HBO's New York operation, playing a key role in programming decisions.

He took on the role of co-chairman in 2007 after the network's chief executive at the time, Chris Albrecht, resigned after being accused of assaulting his girlfriend. Mr. Plepler became chief executive in 2013 and continued to show a special talent for choosing materials that appealed to critics, while providing occasional cheap emotion.

During the early stages of AT & T's acquisition of Time Warner, Mr. Plepler emphatically suggested that he would not give up his independence during an interview at his usual cafeteria, a booth at the Lambs Club, a restaurant two blocks from his office. For HBO to thrive, he insisted, there had to be a "Chinese wall" between the network and its Dallas-based chiefs. He also wondered aloud why AT & T CEO Randall Stephenson would buy HBO if he had a plan to "play a winning game."

Plepler's future became clearer in June, when AT & T completed the acquisition of Time Warner, which also housed Warner Bros. and cable networks CNN, TBS and TNT. Stankey spoke to about 150 HBO employees during a town hall meeting at the cozy HBO Theater, on the 15th floor of the company's headquarters in New York. He warned them of a "difficult year" ahead, saying that "it will feel like childbirth."

Mr. Plepler split the stage with Stankey that day, and there was a moment of public tension between them after the AT & T veteran promised more investment on HBO, and Plepler intervened: "Let's lend a hand to this simple sentence!"

Recovering the stage, Stankey said, "We have to make money at the end of the day, right?"

"We do it," Plepler replied.


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